Greenbelt (Ottawa)

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Greenbelt (Ottawa)
Greenbelt Ottawa.jpg
Map of Ottawa showing the Greenbelt surrounding the urban core
LocationEastern Ontario, Canada
Nearest cityOttawa
Area203.5 km2 (78.6 sq mi)
Governing bodyNational Capital Commission

The Greenbelt (French: Ceinture de verdure) is a 203.5-square-kilometre (78.6 sq mi) protected green belt traversing Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It includes green space, forests, farms, and wetlands from Shirleys Bay in the west and to Green's Creek in the east.[1] It is the largest publicly owned green belt in the world[2] and the most ecologically diverse area in Eastern Ontario.[3] The National Capital Commission (NCC) owns and manages 149.5 square kilometres (57.7 sq mi), and the rest is held by other federal government departments and private interests.[1] Real estate development within the Greenbelt is strictly controlled.[citation needed]

The Greenbelt lies within eight kilometers of Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa and ranges in width from two to ten kilometers. It encircles many of the oldest communities in the City of Ottawa, and covers the same amount of land as the urbanized area of Ottawa that it surrounds.[4]


The Greenbelt was proposed by Jacques Gréber in 1950 as part of his master plan for Ottawa, and the federal government started expropriating land in 1956.[1] The majority of the lands were purchased by 1966 at an approximate cost of CA$40 million (in 1966 dollars), of which around 40% were acquired through expropriation.[4]

Its original purpose included the prevention of urban sprawl (which was threatening the rural areas surrounding the city), as well as to provide open space for the future development of farms, natural areas and government campuses.[1] At the time, the greenbelt was "intended to circumscribe an area large enough for the accommodation of some 500,000 persons. The inner limit was chosen by considering what area could be economically provided with municipal services."[5]

Growth beyond the 500,000 to 600,000 limit anticipated within the Greenbelt was planned to take place in satellite towns in rural areas beyond it, although these areas were not designated by the master plan. This proposal to build satellite towns was based on Ebenezer Howard's 1898 Social Cities scheme and also drew on Patrick Abercrombie's Greater London Plan, especially in the proposals for the Greenbelt to be implemented by development regulations.[6]

Prior to the completion of the Greber Plan, the Ottawa Area Planning Board (OAPB) was created in 1947 to control unregulated suburban expansion. Despite its creation, suburban townships continued to approve low-density subdivisions without municipal services. In an effort to stop low-density suburban expansion, the City of Ottawa successfully annexed rural township lands to the future proposed inside boundary of the Greenbelt in 1948. The rural townships fought the annexation and continued to refuse to zone parts of their land to accommodate a Greenbelt after their loss. After six years of conflict with the rural townships, it became clear that unlike in the Greater London Plan, it would not be possible to establish a Greenbelt using Ontario and Quebec planning legislation alone. As a result, in 1956 the Government of Canada decided to buy or expropriate Greenbelt lands as required.[7]

Despite these efforts, research planner H.A. Hossé noted as early as 1960 that there were signs that the Ottawa Greenbelt would not be able to restrain urban sprawl. The surrounding rural townships of Nepean and Gloucester retained zoning jurisdiction on lands outside the Greenbelt and encouraged their continuing development to increase municipal tax revenues. The Greenbelt was easily crossed by car in a few minutes, and this did not stop civil servants from seeking more affordable homes outside of it. He concluded that without an active program of planning control by the local municipalities involved, or by the province, growth would continue unabated outside the Greenbelt.[8]

At the same time the Greenbelt was being assembled, developers were purchasing land beyond the belt for future use.[9] The population grew much faster than Gréber had predicted, and his population forecast for the year 2000 was reached as early as 1970. In 1965, the suburb of Kanata was built west of the Greenbelt in the Township of March, and the suburban communities of Orleans (Gloucester/Cumberland Township) and Barrhaven (Nepean Township) grew up quickly to the east and south of Greenbelt lands, even before the inner city had filled out. Highway development followed this suburban population growth, with Ontario Highway 417 to Montreal built through the eastern Greenbelt in 1975 and Ontario Highway 416 extended south through the southwestern Greenbelt in 1996.[10]

The rapid population increase encouraged suburban politicians to press for more development outside Greenbelt lands. With the formation of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa–Carleton in 1969, suburban and rural politicians, who had a majority on the regional council used their power to press for urban expansion. Urban boundaries were continually expanded to incorporate further development on former farmland. This general pattern continued following municipal amalgamation in 2001.[9]

Barrhaven (2006)

The result of these ongoing policies can be seen in local settlement patterns. In 1971, 90 per cent of Ottawa homes were inside the Greenbelt. Seven per cent were in rural areas and only three per cent were in the suburbs. By 2007, only 65 per cent of households were inside the Greenbelt, while suburbs were home to 26 per cent of the city's total households. In that time, 60 per cent of Ottawa's population growth was outside the Greenbelt.[9] From 2005 to 2016 it was typical for there to be roughly twice as many housing starts outside the Greenbelt than inside.[11]

One outcome of this pattern of development outside the Greenbelt is an increased infrastructure burden on the city. While homes inside the Greenbelt pay the full cost of their development, it has been estimated that those in the suburbs receive the equivalent of a CA$5,000 taxpayer subsidy due the gap between development charges and infrastructure costs to the city. Urban planner and geographer Barry Wellar has estimated that this subsidy may be as high as CA$25,000 per house when the long-term maintenance costs of roads, bridges, pipes and transit equipment are factored in.[9]


The City of Ottawa is undergoing[when?] an Official Plan Review which, among other things, examines the need for additional land for urban purposes. It considers whether a discussion of urban land should include the option of some development within the Greenbelt and it is intended that this discussion will feed into the NCC’s review of the Greenbelt Master Plan. All views expressed in [the] White Paper are those of the City of Ottawa and not those of the National Capital Commission[12] which owns and operates the Greenbelt. The City of Ottawa has identified more than 13,700 acres (55 km2) of the Greenbelt, worth about $1.6 billion, that could be developed, and in their view, without damaging its overall integrity.[13] Environment Minister Jim Prentice, opposed development in what he considered an important part of the city's heritage. Prentice vowed to fight any such move.[13]

In 2020, columnist Randall Denley of the Ottawa Citizen described the Greenbelt as "a failed attempt to contain growth, not a collection of natural treasures", and supported development within the Greenbelt because "it would give the city the land capacity it requires and deliver all the environmental, transportation and practical benefits that environment groups envision", while Ottawa city staff stated "Expanding urban lands within the Greenbelt is a more efficient use of resources than beyond it."[14]


Mer Bleue Bog boardwalk (2019)

Throughout its history, the NCC has acted to preserve or enhance the natural environment of Greenbelt lands. In 1961, they entered into a 50 year forest management agreement with the Government of Ontario, which lead to the reforestation of abandoned and marginal farmland. The Pine Grove and Pinhey forests were largely the result of that initiative. In the 1970s, the ecological significance of areas such as the Mer Bleue and Stony Swamps were recognized and efforts were taken to protect them. Additional parts of Mer Bleue swamp were acquired and the overall biodiversity of the Greenbelt increased. Walking and ski trails were also created to allow for increased recreational use of these natural areas.[10]


The Greenbelt is home to a variety of wildlife:


Communities located within the Greenbelt:

Places of interest[edit]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML
Trail marker

Places of interest within the Greenbelt are from east to west:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "About the National Capital Greenbelt". National Capital Commission. Archived from the original on 2013-05-31. Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  2. ^ "Greenbelt". National Capital Commission. Retrieved 2022-06-26.
  3. ^ "Conservation and scientific research in the Greenbelt". National Capital Commission. Retrieved 2022-06-26.
  4. ^ a b SENES Consultants Limited (2014). Canada's capital greenbelt master plan. p. V. ISBN 978-1-100-23179-2. Retrieved 2022-06-26.
  5. ^ Eggleston, W., 1961. The Queen's Choice. The National Capital Commission, Ottawa, Ontario, 325 pp.
  6. ^ Gordon, David (2001). "Weaving a Modern Plan for Canada's Capital: Jacques Gréber and the 1950 Plan for the National Capital Region". Urban History Review / Revue d'histoire urbaine. 29 (2): 48. doi:10.7202/1019205ar. ISSN 0703-0428. JSTOR 43562412. S2CID 162423044. Retrieved 2022-06-19.
  7. ^ Gordon, David (2001). "Weaving a Modern Plan for Canada's Capital: Jacques Gréber and the 1950 Plan for the National Capital Region". Urban History Review / Revue d'histoire urbaine. 29 (2): 53. doi:10.7202/1019205ar. ISSN 0703-0428. JSTOR 43562412. S2CID 162423044. Retrieved 2022-06-19.
  8. ^ Hosse, H. A. (November 1960). "Ottawa's Greenbelt and Its Anticipated Effects*". The Canadian Geographer. 4 (17): 35–40. doi:10.1111/j.1541-0064.1960.tb01844.x. ISSN 0008-3658. Retrieved 2022-06-19.
  9. ^ a b c d Adam, Mohammed (2008-05-17). "No easy solutions for growing problem; The constraints of Ottawa's waterways, the Greenbelt and a 'failure of will' to create a viable vision -- and stick to it -- have all played their parts in building today's Ottawa, Mohammed Adam writes". The Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa, Ont., Canada. pp. –3. ISSN 0839-3222. ProQuest 241179377. Retrieved 2022-06-21.
  10. ^ a b SENES Consultants Limited (2014). Canada's capital greenbelt master plan. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-100-23179-2. Retrieved 2022-06-26.
  11. ^ "Land Use and Ecology". Ottawa Insights. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  12. ^ City of Ottawa Greenbelt Whitepaper[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ a b Ottawa Housing Market: Ottawa Greenbelt Development Under Review
  14. ^ Denley, Randall (February 4, 2020). "Denley: If Ottawa is Serious About its Climate Emergency, it's Time to Consider Developing the Greenbelt". Ottawa Citizen.
  15. ^ "Stony Swamp". The National Capital Greenbelt. National Capital Commission. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2013.

External links[edit]